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The world faces a chronic inequality crisis
by Kofi Annan
Chair of The Elders and former UN secretary general
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay.”
The Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith wrote these lines nearly 250 years ago, but as the world faces a chronic inequality crisis, they ring alarmingly true today.
The scale of global economic inequality is staggering and shaming. According to recent research, the number of billionaires rose by the biggest amount ever in 2017, while over half the world’s population lives on between $2 and $10 a day. The 2018 World Inequality Report shows the share of wealth held by the top 1% of earners in the US doubled from 10% to 20% between 1980 and 2016, while the bottom 50% fell from 20% to 13% in the same period.
This chasm between wealth and poverty both between and within countries is a space in which violent tensions and resentments foster; where avarice and corruption supplant compassion and solidarity; and where political courage to confront systemic failings is too often trumped by leaders’ self-interest to court oligarchs and line their own pockets.
Anger is further fuelled by the growing realization that those at the top of the economic pile do not “earn” their wealth in the traditional sense of the word: Their fortunes are less the reward for their talent, hard labor, or risk-taking, and more the product of inheritance, monopoly, or cronyism with political elites.
In Goldsmith’s era, these tensions exploded violently from rebellions against colonial rule in his native Ireland to the American and French Revolutions, which respectively demanded “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Today, such utopian sentiments are heard more rarely and believed even less. Ten years after the devastating financial crash of 2008, there is still widespread anger at the political, business, and economic leaders who failed to avert the crisis and have shown scant remorse or restraint in their policies and actions since.
Millions of people across the world feel left behind and betrayed as the uneven benefits of globalization divide societies into winners and losers on an unprecedented scale. Incomes of the middle and working classes in developed countries have stagnated, and their livelihoods are becoming ever more vulnerable to technological change and global competition.
Many people in economically precarious situations are seduced by the siren songs of cynical populists. From the rust belts of Pennsylvania to the abandoned coalfields of south Wales and northern France, many people in economically precarious situations are seduced by the siren songs of cynical populists. Yet while advocates of “America First,” Brexit, and xenophobic nationalism may rail against “elites,” in reality they promote economic policies that reinforce privilege while offering scapegoats in the form of migrants and other vulnerable minorities.
Compounding inequality and increasingly integrated financial markets have allowed globalization’s winners to park their profits in tax havens. This is where governments have a clear responsibility to act, and a clear way of achieving rapid results if the necessary political will is applied. A wholesale paradigm shift is now required in international economic policy toward a holistic approach that values access to health, education, and justice as drivers of growth.
For decades, international financial institutions have encouraged developing countries to move toward greater reliance on indirect taxes such as Value Added Taxes (VAT), which are much more of a burden on the poor, yet have taken few steps to promote tax transparency, end loopholes and increase the pressure on companies, individuals, and jurisdictions that flout their responsibilities.
From the boardrooms of Wall Street to the streets of Athens, there is a growing consensus that the current economic model is not fit for purpose. We are far from agreement though on what should replace it. What is absolutely crucial is that the voices of the people most affected by inequality must be heard in the debates that follow.
This is why The Elders, a group of independent leaders founded by Nelson Mandela of which I have the honor to be the chair, is working with civil-society activists from the Fight Inequality Alliance to promote an inclusive, just, and bold agenda.
When contemplating global challenges and injustices, Mandela remains a constant source of inspiration. As we celebrate the centenary of his birth this year, let us take heed of his words and follow his example to create a freer, fairer, and more just world for all:
“The real makers of history are the ordinary men and women; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom.”
* The increasing concentration of wealth and economic power as an obstacle to sustainable development – and what to do about it, by Kate Donald, Center for Economic and Social Rights, and Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum: http://bit.ly/2mae8Iq
* Mobilize the financial means for social protection systems for all, by The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors: http://bit.ly/2JbMh3V http://socialprotection-humanrights.org/key-issues/
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International Day Against Racism
by UN Office for Human Rights
Globally, racial equality is under attack. Vile discourses of explicit hate and ideologies of racial supremacy have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Today, racial, ethnic and religious bigotry fuels human rights violations, including extreme violence against minorities, and against refugees, migrants, stateless persons, and internally displaced, with a particularly acute effect on women, and sexual and gender diverse populations.
This bigotry is unashamed. From crowds of youths marching to neo-Nazi chants in Charlottesville, Warsaw, and Berlin, to the racist and xenophobic attitudes of politicians in the highest levels of office world-wide; from the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, to the excessive use of military force to police communities of African descent in different parts of the world—the assault on the human dignity of millions around the world has reached alarming proportions.
The escalation of explicit racism and xenophobia makes celebration of the International Day Against Racism all the more important, especially in this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the year in which Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 100th birthday.
This day calls for unity locally, nationally, and globally in the affirmation of principles of human dignity, substantive equality, and non-discrimination. Significantly, this day should also serve as a reminder that the problem of racism today remains larger and deeper than the shocking manifestations that are now common-place in the media and even in mainstream national political discourses.
The fight against racial discrimination must be understood and waged at a structural level, even in the current alarming climate, which risks training global attention solely on the most explicit and individual occasions of discrimination and intolerance.
It is vital that states, civil society organizations, social movements and activists devote renewed energy and attention to the structural drivers of racial inequality, including, as recognized by the Durban Declaration, those rooted in the history and legacy of slavery and colonialism. At the same time, urgent global attention must also be paid to the structural economic, political and legal conditions that facilitate misplaced racial resentment and xenophobic scapegoating by national populations that perceive minorities and non-nationals as existential threats.
For those committed to advancing human rights, this means taking seriously the grievances and economic marginalization of those that have been most harmed by globalized neoliberal policies that protect capital and neglect labor. It also means confronting the fact that the rise of populist nationalism has at least as much to do with widespread loss of faith in establishment politics that privilege elites, as it has to do with the offensive, xenophobic rhetoric of extremist ideologues.
This is especially evident in the context of backlash in different regions of the world to refugees and involuntary migrants, where gaps in existing international legal frameworks combine with short-sighted national policies to reinforce chaotic and dangerous movements. This chaos heightens anti-migrant anxieties.
Human rights campaigns promoting cohesion in a broader context of escalating migration restrictions will not work. Combatting discrimination against migrants (and all other groups) requires structural reforms that incentivize cohesion, and that make this cohesion a fundamental logic of government policy and private sector involvement in any given community or society.
It is incumbent on states, including through the ongoing negotiations for the Global Compacts for Migration and on Refugees, respectively, to provide legal pathways for migration and to take the other concrete steps necessary to create an international framework that prioritizes substantive equality for all.
States and other actors must also remain vigilant and redouble their efforts with respect to addressing structural manifestations of racial discrimination and inequality, all of which are prohibited under international human rights law. Putting an end to racial profiling by law enforcement agents is just as urgent as putting an end to violent hate crimes perpetrated by private actors.
Denouncing xenophobic Muslim bans implemented through immigration policies that rely on offensive and flawed assumptions about entire religious groups, is just as urgent as denouncing explicit Islamophobic or anti-Semitic statements made by political leaders.
Putting an end to the forced displacement and cultural extinction of racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples that results from government- and multinational corporation-driven extraction and construction projects, is just as urgent as addressing the resurgence of neo-Nazism.
There should be no compromises in the pursuit of racial equality today. The world cannot afford to ignore any dimension of the problem of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, and especially not the forces that do the effective work of structurally subordinating groups on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or citizenship status.
Resurgent hate, and the structural racial and xenophobic discrimination that operates alongside it threaten more than the specific groups that are their direct target. As High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein recently cautioned: “We are growing accustomed to the stoking of hatred for political profit…. Cultivation of a siege mentality among majority populations is a marker of today''s ethno-populism. It creates a sense of overwhelming grievance, with an indicated outlet for that rage. And it shores up power.”
Extremism and systemic racial exclusion threaten the very political and legal foundations of every single state that forms a part of our international order.
An important purpose of the International Day Against Racism, is to create a platform for states to recommit to upholding the fundamental principles of human rights and to guaranteeing substantive equality to all, by eliminating all forms of discrimination intersecting with racial discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, citizenship and any other social category that is traditionally deployed to systemically subordinate groups in society. The time for action is now.
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